Confusion Over What Law Applies Leads 2.7 Million Verdict to be Reduced to Zero

A Florida Court recently reduced a jury’s 2.7 million dollar injury award to a cruise ship passenger to zero based upon confusion over what law should apply. The United States Supreme Court has refused to hear the passenger’s appeal, creating a very dangerous legal precedent for Florida’s cruise ship passengers. Our Florida cruise ship accident attorneys are following these stories with interest.

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Specifics of the Case

The passenger was injured when a rotting and unstable chair he was sitting on collapsed from underneath him while on a cruise. The jury awarded him 2.7 million dollars, but a dispute arose over the question of whether federal or state law should apply. The judge applied the much more business-friendly state laws, and reduced the award to zero.

Every time you take a cruise you agree to a contract, which has a number of clauses that limit the cruise ship’s liability, restrict what a passenger can sue for, and which determines what state law will apply. Of course, there are also federal laws that deal with injuries at sea as well. As a result, courts commonly must deal with whether federal law or state law applies.

To be liable for an injury on its premises in Florida, a business (whether it’s a cruise ship, or business establishment of any other type) can’t be held liable for conditions it did not know and could not know about—such as, for example, a rotting chair that can’t be observed. But federal maritime law does allow an injured person to recover for such injuries. This means the burden of proof for passengers is much easier under federal law. In this case, where Celebrity Cruises admitted that it had not inspected the chair, liability depended upon what law should apply.

When the jury awarded 2.7 million dollars to the injured party, the judge, applying Florida law instead of federal, cut that amount to zero, because under Florida law there would be no recovery for a hidden defect such as a rotting chair. The passenger claimed that the application of Florida law instead of using federal maritime law was incorrect. The passenger asked the United States Supreme Court to step in and decide whether Florida or federal law would apply, but the Supreme Court has refused to do so, leaving the court’s decision to stand as is for now.

Effects May be Widespread

A large number of potential cases could be impacted by such a ruling as the Caribbean, and thus ships that leave from Florida, are the most popular cruise destinations.

This is potentially a bad situation for cruise ship passengers. Cruises leaving from Florida, or where Florida law applies, could purposely neglect inspections so as to insulate themselves from liability. Worse is the conflict in federal maritime law, where a different standard would be applied in a Florida injury case than one from another state.

If you are injured on a cruise, don’t wait to seek help. Your cruise ticket is a contract that carries a number of strict deadlines and requirements to filing suit. The interplay between federal and state law can be complex, so contact the Florida maritime accident attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. if you are injured on a cruise or boat.

Photo Credit: orangesparrow via Compfight cc

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